[PHOTO: Sarah Stier]

Australian Minjee Lee has endured a horror back nine to let a third major championship slip through her fingers at the US Women’s Open.

Tied for the lead and playing in the final group at Lancaster Country Club, the two-time major champion was the leader by two after the first hole on the final day.

Her birdie from just outside 10 feet and bogeys by 54-hole co-leaders Wichanee Meechai and Andrea Lee gave Minjee a front-running position that she seemed destined to maintain.

When Andrea Lee made double-bogey on the fourth and Meechai tripled the par-3 sixth after finding the penalty area with her tee shot, Minjee’s lead had grown to three strokes despite a three-putt bogey of her own at the sixth.

Lee saw a birdie chance slip by the right edge of the hole at the par-5 seventh yet would stand on the tee of the par-4 ninth three shots in front of the field at four-under par.

A tee shot that found the fairway bunker led to a bogey on nine, which would signify the beginning of the end. Another three-putt at the 10th saw Minjee fall into a tie for the lead with eventual champion Yuka Saso (68) at two-under, but the tables would soon turn dramatically.

As Saso birdied the par-5 13th ahead, Minjee’s tee shot at the treacherous par-3 12th trickled back into the stream fronting the green, the double-bogey putting her three shots back in the blink of an eye.

It was a place from which she was unable to recover, making a second double-bogey on 14 followed by bogey on 15 for a final round of eight-over 78 and a tie for ninth, seven shots behind Saso.

“I started good. Felt like I hit it pretty good; just missed a couple putts for birdie early and then I kind of blew up from there,” was Lee’s frank admission post-round.

“Obviously I’m going to acknowledge my disappointment and then come back stronger, take the positives out of the week. It’s a lot of pressure on the last day, so wasn’t my best performance but I’m sure there will be many better performances ahead.”

As Lee struggled, fellow West Australian Hannah Green matched the low round of the tournament, climbing into a tie for 16th with a four-under 66 with Sarah Kemp and Gabriela Ruffels both even-par for their final rounds.

Birdies at seven, nine and 11 generated the momentum that Green had been chasing all week, completing her climb up the leaderboard with birdies from five and three feet at the 16th and 17th.

“I feel like I gave myself better putts for birdie today, a lot more uphill putts, which was nice,” Green said.

“I felt like the first few rounds I had a lot of double-breakers that had a couple of feet of break. You can’t be aggressive with those because your eye is just not used to seeing that. The game plan was pretty much the same the entire week, it was just the execution that was different today.”

Final scores
1          Yuka Saso                    68-71-69-68—276       $US2.4 million
T-9        Minjee Lee                   70-69-66-78—283       $271,732.67
T-16      Hannah Green              76-71-72-66—285       $161,840.67
T-29      Sarah Kemp                 75-72-72-70—289       $68,873.14
MC       Lydia Ko (NZ)                80-73—153
MC       Steph Kyriacou             77-76—153
MC       Keeley Marx (a)            76-81—157